Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Jones v. Swanson case brief

Jones v. Swanson case brief summary
341 F.3d 723 (8th Cir. 2003)

SYNOPSIS: The United States District Court for the District of South Dakota entered an award in favor of plaintiff ex-husband for compensatory damages and punitive damages against defendant boyfriend in a diversity action for alienation of affection. The boyfriend appealed the district court's denial of his motions for new trial and judgment as a matter of law.

-Donna Jones, a nurse in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, married Richard Jones (P) in 1981.
-In September 1998, Mrs. Jones saw her previous boyfrined, Todd Swanson (D), for the first time in 20 years.
-Swanson, an orthopedic surgeon in Las Vegas, returned to Sioux Falls to visit his father in the hospital.
-Mrs. Jones and Swanson met the next day, at which point she expressed dissatisfaction with her current marriage despite continuing to love her husband “as the father of her children.”
-The two kissed and told one another that it had been a mistake to end their relationship years ago. -After the meeting in Sioux Falls, Swanson and Mrs. Jones commenced a long-distance affair.
-In November, Mrs. Jones told her husband that she was thinking of divorce.
-Swanson visited Sioux Falls over Thanksgiving, and Mr. Jones suspected an affair.
-Mrs. Jones admitted to having an affair.
-She and Mr. Jones began couples therapy to work through their issues.
-In January, Mrs. Jones moved out of her marital home.
-Mrs. Jones saw Swanson that month, and Swanson suggested they stop seeing each other.
-In February, however, Swanson again expressed his love for Mrs. Jones.
-In April, Mrs. Jones moved back in with her husband, and they once again began counseling.
-Later that same month, however, Swanson came back to town.
-Mrs. Jones contacted him, and they partook in intercourse.
-In May, Mr. Jones sued Swanson for alienation of affection.
-He then filed for divorce.
-A jury in the trial against Swanson rendered a verdict in Mr. Jones’s favor and awarded him compensatory damages of $450,000 and punitive damages of $500,000 which Swanson appealed.

-Damages were excessive.
-The jury, however, was correct that Swanson's conduct was wrongful.

-The evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude that the ex-husband's ex-wife harbored affection for the ex-husband which was alienated as a result of the boyfriend's involvement.
-Despite the boyfriend's contention otherwise, the jury was properly instructed on the elements of alienation of affection and proximate cause.
-Also, the boyfriend's proposed jury instruction excusing a defendant's conduct if he was less aggressive was not supported by case law.
-The ex-husband's post affair's was excludable evidence because the probative value was substantially outweighed by the prejudicial effect of the evidence. -The boyfriend argued that the award of compensatory and punitive damages were excessive. The instant court held that the evidence did not support the award of compensatory or punitive damages. Those awards were conditionally affirmed.

Elements of a claim for alienation of affection are:
1.  wrongful conduct of the defendant,
2.  loss of affection or consortium, and
3.  a causal connection between the wrongful conduct and the loss of affection or consortium.
-A wife conceivably may transfer her affection from her husband to another because of the latter's kindliness, attractiveness, desirability, financial superiority, or some other reason. Such motivation for transfer of affection may be a substantial factor even though the defendant had nothing to do with it.
-The gravamen of an action for alienation of affection, therefore, is enticement. It is based on an intentional tort, not negligence.
-The acts which lead to the loss of affection must be wrongful and intentional, calculated to entice the affection of one spouse away from the other.

OUTCOME: The instant court affirmed upon the condition that the ex-husband accept a remittitur order on the verdict.

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